JAMES | Film + Television


Whilst we're pretty sure that you're familiar with all of the roles, terms, definitions, etc within the music industry… the world of film and television offers a number of additional employment possibilities and their responsibilities that you may not be aware of or just need clarifying.

Click on the job titles to learn more.

students recording vision and audio outside

Image courtesy of City, University of London.

    • ADR Editor
      Apart from out-of-focus pictures, what could be worse than straining to catch the conversation between the characters when you’re watching a film?

      What is ADR? Automated Dialogue Replacement, also known as Looping, is nothing more or less than the re-recording of dialogue to synchronize it with the moving image. The actor in the recording booth uses the guide track to match the moving lips on screen. The actors are monitored while they watch footage and re-voice their lines as closely as possible. When these sessions are complete the ADR Editor sends the finished tracks to the Re-Recording Mixer where they are combined with the final sound effects and music score.

      It is the very important job of the ADR Editor to make sure that all the spoken dialogue in any production is of the highest possible audio quality. The ADR Editor’s job begins after the film has been shot and the production tracks have been recorded. During principal photography it’s the shared responsibility of the Sound Mixer and Script Supervisor to note any scene where unwanted noises interfere with the ‘clean’ recording of dialogue. These could be anything from planes overhead and traffic noises on location or extraneous noises generated on the sound stage itself. These notes are copied to the Editor and the ADR Editor at the start of Post-Production. Then, if necessary, actors can be scheduled for the looping sessions.

      As the job means direct cooperation with lead actors and supporting cast, as well as other members of the crew, excellent communication skills are essential. During heavy production seasons, he or she may be contributing to multiple projects simultaneously, leading to workdays which stretch late into the night, as with every other film job, so they must be flexible in accommodating schedules.
    • Asst. Sound Designer
      As Assistant, this person is responsible for all tasks assigned by the crew lead, which can include searching sound effects libraries for necessary audio track, organising and transferring sound files, laying up tracks to the editing console for the Sound Effects Editor and the preparation of the cue sheets which document the precise time code of each effect. In addition the Assistant will prepare the raw sound effects tracks for the final sound mix by removing unwanted background sound or other distortions.

      A career in Post-Production Sound requires intensive training in the use of audio consoles and state-of-the-art software, as well as the practical applications of different types of microphones etc. Training in film and television production or recording arts can be beneficial, specifically students should seek out courses with offer significant instruction in audio post-production and editing.

      Those interested in pursuing this career should seek apprentice or entry-level positions within the sound department of an independent or low-budget project in order to gain experience and build a résumé/CV. Specifically try to concentrate your efforts on finding work under the mentorship of an established practitioner.
    • Boom Operator
      What does the Boom Operator do? Exactly what the job title suggests – he/she holds and operates a microphone attached to the 'boom' – a long pole which allows the Operator to hold the microphone in the ideal position to capture the dialogue. The Boom Operator also is in charge of placing radio and clip microphones with performers during recording.

      This might seem a fairly easy job which could be done by anyone but not so, as any Production Mixer will tell you, their results are very reliant on the Boom Operator's skill. The Director of Photography and Camera Operator also appreciate an Operator who can do his job without getting any sign of microphone or other equipment into the shot.

      The 'boom' - the Boom Operator’s weapon of choice - is held either by hand on a long arm (known as a 'fishpole') or mounted on moving platform (a 'dolly') which allows for greater fluidity of movement. If radio or clip microphones are required, the Boom Operator positions them correctly either around the set or discretely hidden away on actors’ clothing.

      The skill lies in knowing exactly where to place a microphone and exactly which type of microphone is the best possible choice for the job in hand. This skill takes a great deal of experience and technical knowledge so that the Mixer is able to capture the best quality dialogue and sound effects. If this is done well, the production will save a great deal of time and money by not having to re-record (post-sync) the dialogue during editing.

      The fitting of personal microphones to actors and actresses must be done with great respect for the person and great care with the fitting, as well as informing the Wardrobe Department for assistance in fitting and/or any necessary alterations to costumes.

      A typical day for any Boom Operator starts at the beginning of principal photography and becoming (and staying) familiar with the scenes, dialogue, camera movements and lighting to be used during the shoot. Boom Operators will then rehearse with the Director, Camera Crew and Performers to make sure that the boom and other microphones are adequately concealed and placed in optimal locations.

      As capturing clear dialogue is one of the Boom Operator's key duties they are given 'sides'. These are small daily booklets made up of pages from the script, so that they can memorize the lines of dialogue and anticipate when to move the boom during filming. Boom Operators are on set virtually all day working alongside the Camera Crew, with whom they must develop a good working relationship. During rehearsal the Operator must carefully note all planned camera movements and lighting requirements, making sure that the microphone doesn't accidentally fall into shot or cast shadows. A call of … 'boom in the shot!'… or an errant microphone shadow are the Operator's two worst nightmares!

      Many Boom Operators start their careers working for facilities companies, learning everything they can about sound equipment, then progressing to Sound Trainee on set, eventually being given the opportunity to swing a boom.

      Although there are no formal entry requirements for this job, a passionate interest in sound is essential – and continued professional development is necessary in order to keep up with changes in technology, so a good Boom Operator keeps a constant eye on new technical developments within the industry. Extensive knowledge of audio electronics and sound recording equipment, the characteristics of microphones, as well as lighting techniques and camera lens angles are essential.

      As with all crew members, physical fitness and balance, combined with patience and stamina are essential qualities.
    • Composer
      These Composers don’t write songs but craft experiences of sound which elevate emotions with subtle undulations and magnificent crescendos. When combined with the images on the screen the Composer’s work triggers audience response of fear, sorrow and elation.

      Composing is a solitary pursuit with the vast majority of the work created alone in a home studio at the piano and computer screen. The process is part passionate experimentation and part frustrating torture as they are not only responsible for their own creativity but also to the whims of the production’s Director, Post-Production Supervisor and/or the Producer.

      When the Composer is hired, they may be given some basis of inspiration to draw on ahead of time – script, video footage or storyboards – but very often the Composer works to a finished and edited film. From this material and collaboration with the Director and other heads of department they will work on a score which gives the footage a sense of time, place and action. The time allocated to write the score, which may include dozens of individual pieces of music, varies by project and genre. Budget constraints will determine whether the score is purely synthesised or performed by a full orchestra.

      The Composer may also be the Orchestrator. If not, the Orchestrator will take the music and expand it into a full music track, assigning instruments, harmonies and impact points to match the production’s tempo and mood. Once the music is orchestrated and ready to be recorded, the musicians and vocalists record the score on a Scoring Stage. Edited scenes of the footage are displayed on a large screen for playback and the music is timed to the images. This process is aided by a click track with time coded documentation to ensure that the music resonates in perfect step with the action on screen.

      The Composer, Orchestrator and editing team work closely together during post-production to weave the music in and around the picture content in order to create the maximum all-round experience for the audience.

      Video games are a new source of career opportunities for Composers. As games become more cinematic and elaborate, developers are needing original material. To properly manage your career and ensure that your rights as an artist are protected, you are advised to secure agency representation as well as membership with a performing rights organisation in order to secure royalties.
      • Foley Artist
        What is a Foley Artist and how did the job get that name? The man who is considered to be the father of motion picture sound effects was Jack Donovan Foley. Although he never received any screen credits, Jack Foley invented many of the techniques for creating or re-creating sound effects for film, television and radio. During the filming of Spartacus in 1960, Stanley Kubrick wanted to reshoot a scene involving a massive Roman army in order to get the sound of their metal shields and swords clashing just right – Foley jingled a set of keys in front of a microphone and called it a day! In spite of this he has been vindicated, as his name is carried on with every Foley Artist working in film, television and video games.

        In real life everything makes a specific sound. We associate all action with a certain noise so without that familiar sound the images we see on screen would seem artificial and flat. Although live sound is recorded during principal photography, after reshoots and editing the audio track doesn’t always match up properly. This is where the Foley Artist comes in to fill in the footsteps and other movement-based noises. They have an arsenal of props at their disposal – an endless collection of shoes, hammers, car doors and an arsenal of weapons, as well as noisy and squeaky food such as celery and cabbage! With all this to hand they can create car door slams, sucker punches and windows smashing, as well as brand new sounds for computer generated characters and objects.

        Most Foley Artists already have technical expertise in audio production, recording and post-production and pick up the craft whilst working with an already experienced artist. To learn how to best approximate the sound of ribs cracking or laundry blowing in the wind, you just have to experiment yourself. You have to be a very observant and creative thinker with a good ear for subtle sonic differences.

        Most Foley Artists will spend their working life dedicated to honing their skills and innovating new techniques and work their way up from unknown noisemaker to sought-after master craftsmen.
      • Music Editor
        A film or television show isn’t complete without a variety of music cues. The Composer’s melodies flowing beneath the visuals lend emotion, suspense and a depth of experience as do source cues, songs performed on camera or heard when the actor turns on a radio or walks into a nightclub. The Music Editor is part of the Sound Post-Production department under the Supervising Sound Editor and is responsible for editing all the music for a film or programme’s sound environment, including the original score, source music and vocals.

        Their work starts during post-production once the production is locked – that’s the point where the Director and Producer have approved the picture edit. During a ‘spotting session’ which is a preview of the edited film without the completed sound effects and dialogue track, the Music Editor will consult with the Producer, Director, Music Supervisor, Composer and Supervising Sound Editor. They make notes for the intended music cues (usually represented by a temp track) that will later be used by the Composer and Orchestrator to align the score to the picture in terms of tempo and mood. A cue breakdown may be needed which means annotating the script to identify pacing, scene length, frame rate and other useful information for the Composer. The Music Editor also creates the click track to aid the orchestra in precisely timing the score to the picture.

        The Music Editor will monitor and attend all recording sessions. They don’t supervise the Composer but are there to offer assistance and act as a liaison between post-production and the musicians. If editing takes place which will affect scoring, then it is their job to make the Composer aware and quickly make appropriate revisions to the cue breakdown and click track.

        Once the recording is complete they work closely with a Mix Engineer (aka Music Mixer) to balance the score with the picture and strip in music at emotionally appropriate and impactful moments. One this is done the Music Editor will be responsible for delivery cue sheets which are necessary for calculating royalties owed for any copyrighted music.

        The path towards becoming a Music Editor may start with work in post-production sound, or through work as a Mix Engineer, Recording Engineer or similar. Entry level positions exist in independent post-production facilities and, with experience, a post sound crew member can advance to this level.
      • Music Supervisor
        Originally the term ‘Music Director’ appeared in film credits as a professional hired to supervise and direct the music selected for a production but today, the more common job description is Music Supervisor.

        The Music Supervisor or Music Director is hired during pre-production by the Producer and the Director and is responsible for the vocal and instrumental performances of the cast and accompanying band or orchestra. They are integral to the musical texture of the films, programmes or games they work on.

        The Music Supervisor/Director attends creative meetings with the Director, Cinematographer, Composer and Choreographer (if it’s a musical) to develop the overall vision of the production and to determine the mood and theme to be portrayed. They study the script and attend vocal auditions (again, if a musical) as well as auditioning and hiring musicians. After the production is cast they will attend rehearsals and then cast and band or orchestra may be combined to fully develop the sound.

        This is a senior level management role which requires years of experience in performance and musicianship with a strong CV/Resumé of credits, Many begin to build their skills in local community theatre, then regional theatre and music gigs.
      • Re-Recording Mixer
        In the post-production process for film and television, the Re-Recording Mixer is responsible for pulling together the complete soundtrack as well as refining the audio for technical and aesthetic quality. He or she combines the efforts of the Sound Effects Editor, Foley Artist, Music Editor and Dialogue Editor into one cohesive sound product that seamlessly accompanies the images on screen.

        The Re-Recording Mixer, formerly known as the Dubbing Mixer, is usually hired at the start of post-production and works under the direction of the Supervising Sound Editor. They work closely with the larger Post Sound Department, Producer and Director to expertly fuse together the numerous audio elements that complete a film or television show. With all sound effects and dialogue complete the Mixer refines the audio, combining the various separate tracks. Finessing the audio includes adding crossfades and balancing the volume of the score underneath the dialogue, as well as ensuring that dynamic sounds are neither too soft nor too overpowering. At this stage, music in the film is usually part of a temporary soundtrack produced by the Music Editor and Music Supervisor and may not make the final cut. Mixing is performed in a dubbing theatre, which typically houses a large mixing console and a theatre-style projection screen, as well as limited seating for viewing rough cuts.

        Following previews, the production will likely endure further picture editing passes, as well as additional audio editing. When the Director and Producer have locked the picture, meaning that they have approved the final visual edit, the Re-Recording Mixer may then create the final mix. This will include the final musical score and any newly looped dialogue or sound effects. Once again, the audio is balanced in the dubbing studio with the input of the Director and Supervising Sound Editor, as well as the Sound Designer. The soundtrack is smoothed and balanced and the number of tracks is reduced further and mixed to 5.1 surround sound specs, the industry standard. The duration of the editing process will vary greatly depending on the size and type of production but can require as little as two weeks or as many as twelve.

        The Re-Recording Mixer must be proficient in the use of multiple dubbing consoles, as well as audio editing systems. Knowledge of recording consoles and audio software applications is helpful. This career requires an individual who understands the artistic and technical concepts of sound design and audio balance and is capable of creatively mastering a soundtrack that will produce an emotional response complementary to the visual action. There is no standard formula for mixing a great audio track; it takes intuition, experience, and technical know-how to perfect.
        • Sound Assistant
          The Sound Assistant works with the Sound Recordist and Boom Operator and so is excellently placed to learn all about every aspect of the job.

          They have to be able to carry out a variety of tasks, including assembling and maintaining the equipment, setting up communication, public address systems and positioning microphones as well as keeping cables clear of any moving equipment or footfall.

          They need to be able to break down a script as they may be asked to deputise for the Recordist, perhaps in second or third camera situations or on larger productions and may be asked to act at a second Boom Operator.

          The Assistant will already have worked as a Trainee, so will already have the necessary qualifications and may have taken extra training with an industry-provided course.
        • Sound Designer
          The Sound Designer is the Head of Department with all the responsibilities that entails. Francis Ford Coppola originated the title, giving it to Walter Murch in 1979 for his work in the creation of original sound effects and sound manipulation for Apocalypse Now defining the role of the Sound Designer… ‘an individual ultimately responsible for all aspects of a film’s audio track, from the dialogue and sound effects recording to the re-recording of the final track’ …

          Without the noises and sound which accompany all physical action in real life, a film or television show lacks the reality that our brains expect and need in order to fully become immersed in the viewing experience. By their very nature, sound effects are background information meant to deliver a more complete sensory experience. Close your eyes and, if just by listening, you can almost see in your mind the action on screen, the Sound Effects Department have done their job.

          The Sound Designer is responsible for all sound effects tracks included in the film or television programme. They are hired during pre-production and the process begins with the script, through design meetings with the Director and other Heads of Department to conceptualise and identify the specific effects or qualities the Director wants to capture.

          ‘Designed’ sound is any unnatural audio which cannot be captured from real life – a spacecraft hovering, or the roar of a dinosaur, or the swish of a light sabre – the Designer’s team will manipulate and synthesise the new audio tracks.

          This level of expertise is only gained through several years of working in the Sound Department as the Designer has to be very familiar with every aspect of the skills, tools and technologies used to create sound on any level and every department under their supervision.

          This career requires a technically savvy individual with a keen ear and the creative capacity to deliver audio which emphasises and complements the moving images on screen.
        • Sound Recordist
          The Production Sound Recordist/Mixer is the head of the Sound Crew on set. They are ultimately responsible for recording all the audio during principal photography.

          Getting the recording right the first time is important because each scene or line which has to be dubbed in later post-production/editing significantly increases the production budget. A Recordist who is consistent and reliable is a valuable assed to the crew, This is a highly creative career that allows for experimentation in recording techniques and innovations. It takes time, experience and great effort to work your way up to this level.

          On occasion, as with Les Misérables in 2012 and other musical films, live music is recorded directly on set, sometimes re-dubbed in post but, if well done, is used as recorded in the final mix.

          During principal photography their responsibilities are extensive, including dialogue, sound effects, wild lines, live music and room tone (atmospherics) – as well as making script notes which will be needed for continuity in case of any re-shoots.

          In the same way that the Director and Cinematographer make sure that they have adequate overall visual coverage of the set, the Recordings has to be sure that they have audio coverage. They liaise with Costume and Special Physical Effects to discuss the placement of microphones on or around the actors, as well as doing recces to locations to check for potential sound problems, as well as setting up playback equipment on set, in the case of a musical scene, so that the actors have something to work to.
        • Sound Trainee
          The entry level to the Production Sound Crew is as a Trainee - but you still have to have basic knowledge and, as all feature film jobs are highly contested, it takes a lot of perseverance and determination to make your way into the crew. Once you've made it to your first job, it's up to you to make yourself as useful as possible, be efficient and pleasant, watch, listen and learn from those around you and, most important of all for getting on with your new team, be sure you can make a good cup of tea!

          An intelligent Trainee who is keen to learn the film sound business will, if given good instruction and encouragement, prove a valuable asset to the Sound Crew.

          What skills do you need to be a Sound Assistant Trainee?
          * A basic understanding of audio electronics and sound recording equipment with a working knowledge of a variety of microphones.
          * Excellent hearing and precise attention to detail.
          * Dexterity and agility as well as physical fitness and balance, combined with patience and stamina, as the hours are long.
          * An excellent sense of timing and good communication skills, as well as diplomacy and tact when working with Performers and other Crew members.
          * An inquisitive mind and the ability to take instructions with a pleasant attitude.

          Most Trainees gain a foothold into the industry by finding a Production Sound Mixer who is willing to offer them his junior position on their crew. This period of on-the-job training lasts approximately two years before Sound Trainees are ready to become Sound Assistants. Working with equipment manufacturers or hire companies can also provide the opportunity to learn about sound equipment and to make useful industry contacts. The Trainee has to be very aware of 'film set etiquette' who does what and how it fits into the crew structure and schedule. How well and how quickly the individual progresses depends as much on attitude and the ability to work as part of the team as does technical ability.

          Sound Trainees are usually employed to perform general running duties such as helping with the equipment and working with the Boom Operator to negotiate cables on the studio floor, helping with unpacking, cleaning and setting up the equipment – particularly when moving locations. A hastily packed truck means time lost searching for gear buried under crates or worse yet, damaged goods that go flying when the driver initiates an impromptu brake check. The Trainee may also help with maintaining audio equipment and performing repairs as necessary - and no rookie escapes the unenviable task of cleaning cables.

          Many Trainees may start their careers working for equipment hirers and suppliers or post production facilities ,where they will learn about equipment and techniques, subsequently progressing to working on set. A demonstrable interest in sound is essential and continued professional development is necessary in order to keep up with changes in technology.

          Every element of film production involves technical skill combined with a high degree of creativity, plus the ability to think 'outside the box'. Each day brings a new challenge and with it a test of skill as the 'tricks' and techniques needed to do the job properly can only be learned on set from the experienced craftsmen on the Crew. Never be afraid to ask if you don't understand what you're being asked to do. As a Trainee you are still learning and everyone appreciates this.
        And to put everything into perspective with relation to the entire 'Production Crew', below illustrates how each department interacts.
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